Increase in metazoan ecosystem engineering prior to the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary in the Nama Group, Namibia.R Soc Open Sci. 2019 Sep; 6(9):190548.RS
The disappearance of the soft-bodied Ediacara biota at the Ediacaran-Cambrian boundary potentially represents the earliest mass extinction of complex life, although the precise driver(s) of this extinction remain unresolved. The 'biotic replacement' model proposes that an evolutionary radiation of metazoan ecosystem engineers in the latest Ediacaran profoundly altered marine palaeoenvironments, resulting in the extinction of Ediacara biota and setting the stage for the subsequent Cambrian Explosion. However, metazoan ecosystem engineering across the Ediacaran-Cambrian transition has yet to be quantified. Here, we test this key tenet of the biotic replacement model by characterizing the intensity of metazoan bioturbation and ecosystem engineering in trace fossil assemblages throughout the latest Ediacaran Nama Group in southern Namibia. The results illustrate a dramatic increase in both bioturbation and ecosystem engineering intensity in the latest Ediacaran, prior to the Cambrian boundary. Moreover, our analyses demonstrate that the highest-impact ecosystem engineering behaviours were present well before the onset of the Cambrian. These data provide the first support for a fundamental prediction of the biotic replacement model, and evidence for a direct link between the early evolution of ecosystem engineering and the extinction of the Ediacara biota.